The small observation post baked in the sun when that side was sunward; when it was not, it froze. Without the insulating effect of a couple of dozen meters of rock and dirt, the scientists had to wear special suits lined with metal foil to keep the radiation out and to stabilize the temperature variation.
Inside the post, in a metal-foil suit, S—— was finishing his shift and preparing the Record to turn over to the next keeper. He was alone in the post; he went about his tasks and from time to time he sipped a nutritious fluid from a straw inside his helmet. The straw piped into a pouch in his suit leg.
A buzzer sounded, and without looking, S—— reached up in a practiced move and pressed one of several red buttons on the panel in front of him.
“Yeah?” S—— said disinterestedly.
“What’s the distance now?” said a voice tinged with the shadow of electronic transmission and amplification.
“Fifty-four,” S—— said, his eyes still fixed on the pad in front of him.
“Are you sure?” the voice asked.
S—— reached up again and flipped the intercom link off. He heard a rustling and heavy-mechanical sound and recognized it as someone trying to open the vacuum lock between the deadly outside area and the post’s interior, which was pressurized, warmed, and hydrated. ”Y——, that you?” he called.
“Yes,” Y—— said. The rustling continued, and then there was a banging.
“What’s with all that noise?” S—— asked.
“I can’t—get—the—hydro—-lock—-open!” Y—— said, punctuating his words with slams from his hand on the panel.
“Well, don’t hit it, it just—”
“There!” Y—— said as he got the lock to slide open, opened the inner door, and moved through it. He closed it again, and then walked around the counter. ”We’ve got to get somebody to take a look at that.”
“It’s never a problem for me,” S—— said, annoyed. ”Have you looked at these numbers?” he asked.
“What numbers?” Y—— responded.
“These,” S—— returned. He rotated the monitor before him so that Y—— could see it. ”See this guy here?” he pointed on the screen. ”We did his line a couple of days ago, but I’m not liking what’s happening here,”—again he indicated by pointing—“or here,” he finished. Now both of them were staring at the screen.
“Yeah.” Y—— said. ”What happens after that?”
“I’ve gone out to six centuries, I thought that would be enough,” he said. ”Not much.”
“Hmm,” Y—— considered. ”You think—”
“Yeah, I do,” S—— interrupted him.
There was an awkward silence between them for a moment. ”Okay, let’s bring this guy in,” Y—— said, pointing to the screen. ”Can we do it in the forties? Before the war is over?”
“Sure,” S—— said. ”How about early in 1942 sometime?”
“Yeah, that sounds about right. You do it, and get T—— to help you, okay? I don’t want you going back that far alone.”
“Okay,” S—— replied.
“I’m going to go to the orbiter now,” he said, moving toward the vacuum lock again. ”I can’t stand this suit.”
“Yeah, me neither,” S—— replied.
“You zap me when you’re in the bucket, and I’ll be watching from the pad. When you’re done, I’ll pull you out, okay, so don’t take anything that can’t be left behind.”
“See you. Tell 1942 I said hello,” Y—— said, smiling.
“Sure will,” S—— said. He leaned back in his chair and rubbed his eyes. When he looked up, Y—— was already through the lock and outside.
The place is the men’s room of a deserted Trailways bus station in Alameda, California, at 2:07 am on the morning of February 7, 1942. The station is open for business—the 4:15 from San Francisco will be along in a couple of hours, but no one is present in the station’s waiting room. The attendant on duty pulled the curtain down behind his station and is sleeping soundly on the cot in the back, an alarm clock set for 3:45 am. In the second stall of the men’s room, there is shimmering, and S—— winks into existence in this time and place, dressed for the part. He pauses for a moment with eyes closed, breathing, waiting for the vertigo associated with backtrips to fade, and then he opens his eyes.
His vision is blurry, and then the blurriness fades and he finds that he is staring at the closed door of the stall, clean and white; there is a hook there on the door, and below it, the words ‘Jesus is coming soon’ is written neatly in what looks like blue marker. He smiles and pushes the door open.
The room is gleaming and spotless. S—— is at first surprised, and then he remembers that this is the Forties, an age in America when upkeep and maintenance and cleanliness were—well, next to Godliness, as they say. S—— looks at himself in the mirror, checking for historical accuracy and detail, and he pulls a black plastic comb out of his pocket and runs it through his black, well styled hair. Hair oil, now there’s a touch of civilization, he thought. He put the comb back in his pocket and adjusted his shirtsleeves so that the cuffs just extended past the end of his dark wool jacket. The clothes of this period felt odd, but anything was better than that damn metal-foil getup they had to wear topside on the station.
He had expected T—— to be behind him, but sometimes the second man was delayed a bit on backtrips, so he stood there in front of the mirror for a few moments. Then the door to the men’s room opened and an old man stepped in.
S—— looked at him and immediately, his guard went up. First of all, there wasn’t supposed to be anybody in the station except the attendant, and this old man certainly wasn’t him. Second, he stupidly had not activated his implant and now would not be able to until he was out of sight of this person. Third, not knowing who he was dealing with made any interaction he had with anyone native to the time period fairly dangerous—although this man didn’t look like anyone who would be believed no matter what he said or did, even if T—— winked into existence right here in front of him. The man was quite elderly, shabbily dressed, almost certainly a vagrant of one kind or another; despite his age and the hour, the old man certainly recognized the look of shock and surprise in S——’s face as he had entered, and it puzzled him. They looked at each other for a moment but neither spoke; S—— nodded and the old man slowly shuffled to the first stall and went inside.
S—— pushed his way through the first door, through a second, and then he was inside the station. The attendant’s window was visible to him, its curtain pulled down. S—— scanned the entire station quickly: long wooden benches, several can-like ashtrays between them, polished wooden floor, but no people.